School district pulling out of multicounty cooperative

FORTVILLE — Mt. Vernon Community School Corp. is pulling out of a multicounty cooperative that oversaw programming for the district’s special needs students, a move that could save as $350,000 each year and allow more control over local programming.

The school board voted unanimously Monday to end its partnership with Hancock Madison Shelby Educational Services. The cooperative, which is based in Greenfield, provides staff, training and other support services for about 2,500 students from five area school corporations. About 600 Mt. Vernon students receive services through the agreement.

The special education co-op includes students from Mt. Vernon, Southern Hancock, Eastern Hancock, Northwestern Shelby district and South Madison schools. Under the agreement with the co-op, Mt. Vernon paid $1.6 million per year, regardless of how many of its students with special needs received services, Superintendent Shane Robbins said.

The district now will be able to adjust its programming based on enrollment, which could free up funding, he said.

The district follows in the footsteps of Greenfield-Central School Corp., which last December announced its plans to sever ties with the co-op. That decision sparked changes for the other school districts involved, which previously sent their special-education students to Greenfield-Central facilities.

Robbins said he plans to reach out to Greenfield-Central officials for guidance moving forward.

Last summer, Mt. Vernon spent just shy of $150,000 to renovate a former high school band room into a special education room as a result of the switch. After making those changes and weighing other options, it became clear the district could take control of its special education programming, Robbins said.

“I just feel like we could do more by going on our own,” he said. “It’ll allow us to make some decisions a little more seamlessly.”

According to the terms of the agreement between districts and the co-op, all staffing decisions and programs must be approved by the co-op’s board of directors.

All of Mt. Vernon’s 27 special education staff members are employed by the co-op. Robbins said he intends to hire those employees under a Mt. Vernon contract so students won’t see a change in staffing. The shift will require adding an assistant director of special education, he said.

Tony May, president of the Mt. Vernon School Board, said the decision boiled down to doing what’s best for the district.

“It came down to logic and numbers,” he said. “This frees our budget up and gives us more control over our programming.”

Robbins said he’d like to create a transition program for the district’s special-education students between the ages of 18 and 22 that will support their growth into adulthood.

Mt. Vernon is in a two-year contract with the co-op, but Robbins said he hopes to receive approval to break the agreement before the start of the 2016-2017 school year.

That decision rests on the approval of the Hancock Madison Shelby Educational Services board, whose members include the superintendents of each participating school corporation.

The board, of which Robbins is a past president, approved Greenfield-Central’s request to break its contract early last school year.

Karen Niemeier, executive director of Hancock Madison Shelby Education Services, said she expects the transition to proceed smoothly, though she admits a lot of uncertainty remains.

“At this point in time, the remaining four superintendents will be looking at restructuring options to determine what the best way to continue providing services will be,” Niemeier said.

Although Mt. Vernon is the second district to pull out of the co-op in the past 12 months, Niemeier said she’s confident it will continue providing its services.

“Obviously, this is a time of change; but we plan to make the transition as smooth as possible,” she said.

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.